Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is Monochrome Paris’ console debut. The team has previously created plenty of VR experiences for clients like Adidas, as well as a PC VR shooter called Singularity 5. With a console debut, the studio has gone in a completely different direction with this puzzle platformer. The shadowy world certainly wears its influences on its sleeve all the way through to the strange story that kicks everything off.
Emma is a little 10-year-old girl fascinated with the disappearance of the Kane illusionists’ only son Thomas from his home in Victorian-era London. The trail is running cold and Scotland Yard is going to close the investigation, so she sets off in the middle of the night on her own towards the mansion to see if she can find anything out. On her way there she’s passed by a carriage moving at speed and a teddy bear called Fenton falls out onto the road. Strangely, the teddy bear gets up and gives chase, as does Emma. The pair follow the carriage into the grounds of the foreboding Kane mansion shrouded in shadows.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows Review – Hidden in the Shadows
The mansion is seemingly deserted but has no intention of letting the duo solve the mystery. There are five different sections of the mansion with obvious influences, such as the Jules Vernes-esque Boiler Room with tentacled monsters roaming the oil tanks, or the Tim Burton inspired appearance of the shadow world. Each of these worlds is split into levels, each of which needs Emma and Fenton to collect a mysterious crystal and put them together to make a key. Only then can they open the next part of the mansion.
The clever part of their journey is the chiaroscuro dimensions they must navigate. Fenton can only move in a shadow world represented by black and white side-scrolling gameplay. Meanwhile, Emma inhabits the “real” world represented by a colorised top-down view. Fenton is the only one doing any platforming as Emma can’t jump. On the other hand, Emma is solving most of the puzzles because she’s the only one that can manipulate objects. While they move independently, they both rely on the actions of the other to get to the end of each level safely.
Each world is filled with plenty of obstacles. As well as plenty of locked gates and doors (what are the Kanes trying to hide?) there are giant mechanical spiders in the garden ready to spin Emma into their web, or giant bees attracted to fluorescent green lights. Not all creatures are deadly, though, as the gelatinous blobs in the kitchen can grow into platforms to help Fenton get through some sections. As the duo needs to work together at all times, a button lets players switch between the two at any time.
Both Emma and Fenton can die, often in grisly ways, but there is little penalty for making a mistake. Both characters always reset right where they were so no progress is lost. The puzzles are never too difficult and the majority of my mistakes were made while overthinking a solution having missed something simple. The camera doesn’t always help with this, with gaps in walls or levers often hidden slightly off screen and in easily missable corners. Despite this the game is never unfair; any mistakes are yours and often it’s just a case of getting the right angle of the shadows. Fenton can’t make his way through shadows—they’re an impenetrable barrier to him—but he can always be reset if he falls somewhere he shouldn’t be. Only once did I have to restart a level when Fenton got trapped in shadows and Emma couldn’t get to where she needed to be to free him.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows Review – A World of Dangers
Each level sends Emma back to the world map at the end where she can select any of the already completed levels to replay at any time too. The only minor issue here is the “Next Map” navigators don’t work properly as they send her to the last level of the next world even if it isn’t unlocked yet. With the exception of a handful of later levels, each level is fairly short making the game incredibly easy to pick up or put down when necessary. This does make the game short in itself, taking just three hours to complete, but this means it doesn’t outstay its welcome at any point.
Another of Tandem’s influences is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the game even goes as far as to namecheck him. Unfortunately, the accompanying story is not nearly as well written as any of his novels or short stories. In fact, with the exception of the opening cutscene, there is very little narrative. When the duo reach the end of a world, all that happens is they grab the key and open the door to the next world before finding it’s once again filled with deadly obstacles. Emma is also not very believable. I don’t know of any ten-year-old girls that, when faced with a giant dung beetle bearing down upon her, would calmly exclaim “this place is just as dangerous” before running away without a single scream or shriek.
There’s no character development for either of the protagonists or the supposed antagonist. There are secret areas to find, each of which holds a collectible artwork that supposedly enhances Thomas’ story, but they’re easy to miss and just add more confusion. The artwork can be revisited in the main menu but none of the explaining commentary comes with them. The game’s abrupt ending then opened up even more questions while providing few answers.
The narrative wasn’t helped by some technical hiccups during the cutscenes, these were sometimes cut off at the start and often cut off early at the end. It also became very difficult to concentrate when Emma’s face vanished, leaving hair, a pair of floating eyes, and a hollow where the face should have been. Admittedly a puzzle-platformer doesn’t need a narrative and the game works just as well without it, but if you’re going to promise a “narrative-driven adventure” then you need to provide it.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows Review – The Verdict
Tandem‘s world of shadows is an intriguing place with clever obstacles that are fair although not very challenging. Emma and Fenton make a great pair as they navigate the chiaroscuro dimensions even if you know little about either. It’s just a shame that the Tale of Shadows’ narrative is underdeveloped and even non-existent in places—so much more could have been done. Those wanting a simple puzzle platformer will enjoy their time. Those wanting a story need to look elsewhere.
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